April 24, 2014

On Scott Raab’s Search for the Soul of LeBron James

Being one of the lucky handful of individuals to have received an advanced copy of Scott Raab’s soon-to-be released book, I set out to ferociosuly tear through the 300 pages and provide the readers of WFNY with a semi-definitive review.  And then yesterday happened.

Not 24 hours after the black and gold-covered memoirs landed on the desks of us sporting types, two extremely well-written reviews hit the interwebs that I would not even consider attempting to trump.  If these posts represent the off-Jack, the big dog is most certainly buried because my hand is ace-no-face at the very best.

First, from Cleveland Jackson over at Stepien Rules:

The book is an autobiography about that survival and evolution of a man.  A memoir in tight readable perfectly prepared prose.  And Lebron James is part foil, part antagonist, part cautionary figure, and part vehicle as an emblem of historical undeserving disrespect.  This is the book that Scott Raab, a former 12 year old attendant to the last sports championship in Cleveland, was born to write.

Raab in The Whore Of Akron is the personification of us, of a skyline made of nearly perfect but always flawed desires, of a river of unnatural abilities and heroes destined to crush instead of lift.   Of a Miracle at Richfield short circuited by the broken foot of Jim Chones and of another championship run doomed by Michael Jordan’s excellence and Danny Ferry’s defects.  Written in form uniquely accessible enough to make a snotty nosed kid from California who has never actually found himself in a gutter contemplate a poetic vomit encrusted Bukowski-like hangover headache.

And secondly, though by no means a 1A to C-Jack’s numero uno, is John Krolik’s longform over at Cavs The Blog:

I’ve read countless sports books over the course of my life, and The Whore of Akron was the fourth book I have read about LeBron James. (I skipped LeBron’s Dream Team, nee Shooting Stars; the fact that its author actively loathes LeBron now made me suspicious of the book, but mostly I had no interest in reading a re-hash of how great of an idea it was for LeBron to have his high-school friends run his life. None whatsoever.)

Anyways, the point of all this is that Raab’s book is nothing like any LeBron book or athlete biography (even Michael Leahy’s scathing When Nothing Else Matters, which chronicled Michael Jordan’s fiasco of a comeback with the Wizards)  I’ve ever read, and bears little resemblance to any sports book I’ve ever read. In fact, the book is far more similar to Charles Bukowski’s Hollywood than it is to anything David Halberstam or John Feinstein has ever written. [...]

Raab’s book is also a post-sports blog creation — it would have been almost impossible to imagine a writer of Raab’s stature writing a full-length sports book with so many declarations of loyalty to a team and a city, so much hatred directed at those who he felt betrayed his city, the aforementioned bursts of profanity, so many autobiographical anecdotes, and some unsourced rumors thrown in for good measure — some are presented as rumors, some are presented as fact, some are 100% believable, and some are tough to take without a grain (or shaker) of salt. It is a book written without access, favor to the players who gave him access, or discretion — the Deadspin credo. On top of everything else, The Whore of Akron may be the first full-length book produced by a successful mainstream writer in the blog era.

And after getting the chance to absorb WoA on my own, not one word either of these aforementioned men wrote is inaccurate.  Those who thought that this book was about LeBron James and all the evil he represents within the confines of a Rustbelt town could not have been more wrong.  Sure, James plays a large role in the book – his silhouette is on the cover. But flip that bad boy over and you see a Chief Wahoo as well as Raab’s ticket to the 1964 NFL Championship game – an event which plays an extremely large role throughout. 

Raab speaks as a Cleveland fan, one who has seen more disappointment, as a 59-year-old man, than any of the writers at this very site. He spares no detail with regard to his personal demons (drugs, alcohol, obesity, etc), but also holds no punches when it comes to integral characters like James, Art Modell and Danny Ferry.  And if any one passage resonated the most with me, it is the following:

[S]ometimes when I come back I park across the street and wonder how I ever made it out alive. All the socres I’ll never settle, all the debts I can’t repay, all my ghosts await me here.

And not only my ghosts. The whole place groans, sagging under fifty years of pain and rage.  It is forever fourth down and 98 yards to go here, the Broncos’ ball, with the Browns four minutes from their first Super Bowl; forever the ninth inning of Game 7, the Tribe leading by a run, three outs away from their first World Series win since 1948; forever the last second of Game 5 against the Bulls in 1989, with the Cavaliers up one and Michael Jordan with the ball.

Cleveland is each of those things plus a score or two more – the roaring silence that each failure has left frozen in its wake, here where hoe and despair, love and hate, joy and sorrow, are inseparable.  It is my favorite place on earth, the only home I’ll ever truly have.

Aiming to not give away too much more of the story, I’ll opt to echo Krolik in saying that, above all else, this book is about self-awareness.  As if piped directly from the “prose factory,” to borrow a term from the great Vince Grzegorek, WoA verbally sprays Contra-esque warfare on behalf of Cleveland. Rarely will anyone who picks this book up be able to fully relate to the trials and tribulations of all aspects of Raab’s life.  Surely we have seen many of the plays and games which are described in eloquent detail; some of us may have even had a run-in or two with stealing to stay fed.  But at the root, this book is about passion.  It’s about years of misery and frustration.  And it’s about hope.

All it takes is one scroll to the top of this very page to see what WFNY’s credo is.  And if you can stomach a few ounces of profanity for the good of the cause, this is a book that all Cleveland sports fans will have on their shelves as we await our chance to experience what Raab did at the young age of 12-years old.  A championship in Cleveland.

**

Buy the book on Amazon.

Buy the book at Barnes and Noble’s.

  • Harv 21

    As soon as I read the Esquire mag excerpt, knew I had to get this and soon. A fantastic, gonzo, idiosyncratically-Cleveland voice.

  • Eric G

    Thanks for bringing this to my attention. I can’t wait to get it now!

  • MrCleaveland

    One of the great book titles of our time.

  • jimkanicki

    here is the link to the esquire excerpt harv referenced:
    http://www.esquire.com/features/whore-of-akron-book-excerpt-1111

    pre-order, done.

  • RyInCBus

    Seriously, if Cleveland was any more self-aware of how miserable it is, I think it would literally implode into a black hole in the middle of the Cuyahoga River and suck most of Ohio in with it. I think that oftentimes, we are our own worst enemy. We have such rage and frustration built up inside of us, (many of us undeservedly having not been alive long enough to be able to appreciate the highs and lows this city has witnessed) that we are quick to unleash it upon the unsuspecting passerby… the Bostons, the New Yorks, the Denvers, the Chicagos, the ESPNs, or better yet, the Dari Nowkhahs of the sports landscape. Enough is enough.

    Frankly, I’m tired of the introspectives dissecting our sports history and the misery that comes with being a Cleveland fan. Yeah, I’m Waiting For Next Year, but I’m also waiting for a day to come along where we can escape from the undertow of negativity that continually drags us down into the mud-slinging depths we find ourselves too often now. Will that day conicide with Cleveland winning a Championship? Most likely. But I often wonder, does it have to?

  • oribiasi

    I am definitely getting this book. My word, just that little excerpt is worth the cover price. His idea that it is forever 4th and 98 yards to go is actually chilling to me. He really gets it, this guy.

    Aside: If he commented like that on this site, I wonder how much approval he’d get? haha…

  • Dave

    Ry in Cbus, you don’t get it, and doesn’t really sound like you want to get it. I’m sure if everyone in Cleveland was happy-go-lucky, sounds like this is what you want, we would be idiots with no expectations and dreams. We know these teams can achieve more, we know this city is capable of more, hence the crux, the pain, the frustration. I wish we could be dumb, placid sheep that just trot along in our boring existence and long winters. We cannot. Enjoy the Hoosier game!

  • NJ

    @5 – lol. I feel the same way.

  • RyInCBus

    @Dave… Trust me, I GET IT. I’ve been there, done that, said this, felt that, thrown this, broke that. And to be fair, I have not read the book and I should before I comment further. But what I typed was based off the excerpts I have read. Based off the things I have heard and seen and read elsewhere. For Clevelanders, By Clevelanders. Like Joe Posnanski and the like. The people who blame our Terminal Tower, our Chagrin River and our eerie Lake for all the city’s bewilderment. Gimme a break. It’d almost be laughable if it wasn’t so damn sad.

  • Chip

    yeah, tss, maybe he should look on his shoes or sumthin’ tss tss

  • humboldt

    RyIN – I’m with you on this. I won’t be buying or reading this book. It strikes me as essentially Cleveland pity-porn based on old tired stereotypes and hyperbole (e.g. “It’s forever fourth down and 98 yards to go”). Nonsense. This is also the town that gave rise to global icons like Superman, international artists like Halle Berry, Paul Newman, and Wes Craven, poets like Hart Crane, entrepreneurs like Peter Lewis, and so on.

    And Scott, if your point that “Those who thought that this book was about LeBron James and all the evil he represents within the confines of a Rustbelt town could not have been more wrong” is correct, I find the title of the book to be misleading, cynical, and self-serving.

    And please spare me the “read the book before you judge it” argument. Raab knows what he’s doing with the packaging/marketing/promotion of this book, and it’s playing to our baser instincts of hatred, revenge, and spite. No thanks. I’ve moved on from Lebron and am not defined exclusively by Cleveland sports outcomes.

  • Dave

    Joey P! It is hard to think of someone who thinks a move to Kansas from Cleveland is an improvement. I understand the thought of a fresh prospective, and from the outside looking in, but that $hit gets old. I don’t expect people who didn’t grow up here/live here to understand it, it’s so damn complex that sometimes I don’t get it and I’ve lived on in Cuyahoga county my entire life (is that good or bad?). I don’t even think people would complain if we were consistent contenders, the pattern we’ve fallen in to is that one team will have a 3 year run every 40+ years, but the time in between we are subject to Rumsfeld/Ashcroft types of torture.

  • 5KMD

    Not sure if this is off topic but if the Tribe had lost game 6 like the Rangers did, it would add to the lore. Other cities have their heartbreak, but it doesn’t seem to happen in every sport. Texas still has the recent maverick’s ‘ship to fall back on.

  • Vorax

    Contra reference=pure ownage

  • mgbode

    There are some tangential benefits to being a Cleveland fan.

    I had a corporate event this week. It was an event for newer employees to the company to meet with some of the executive staff, etc. So, I was drinking with one of the executive board members and he starts complaining about the Chargers and how terrible it is to root for sports in San Diego. I took it all in and highlighted some of the good things that hold promise for his teams. He then asks me who I cheer for and I explain my deep affinity for all things Cleveland. He spends the next few minutes profusely apologizing for complaining about his teams and orders some rather expensive scotch for us.

    Being a Cleveland fan is like holding a trump card on misery. Anyone that complains or whines about their teams immediately folds when held in stark comparison. Really, only Seattle can truly compare (and let us remember that it usually does rain/snow more days of the year in Cleveland despite their moniker).

    http://www.currentresults.com/Weather/US/average-annual-precipitation-by-city.php

  • Ghost To Most

    Is it just me, or does “The Whore of Akron” just seem way over the top? I get that LeBron is a jack@ss but do people really have to take it so personally?

  • Eric G

    @10 Whasssthat?

  • NJ

    @15- I’d argue Buffalo fans can go toe-to-toe with us. Yes, they don’t have three major sports, but those four Super Bowls sting. Plus no major sport championships at all.

  • -bobby-

    As for the fan misery, i dont understand the “woe is me” type thing. I mean sure the Pats and Steelers piss me off like no other but its purely jealousy. I want the browns, indians and cavs to be at that level and to be able to expect compete or the championship every year. But the reality is Part of being a browns/cleveland fan is the resiliency it bears. If I didnt like it, i could just go all front runner, but wheres the fun in that?

  • Chip

    @17 tss tss They should call you like “Eric 1,000″ or sumthin tss

  • Mike in Seattle

    Trust me…Seattle can’t come CLOSE to comparing, not even sure why you’d think that.

    Besides, Seattle fans really don’t give two craps about their pro sports teams. Oh, they try and hate the Steelers, but they have no clue. I try and explain to them that they “hate” the Steelers because of ONE GAME, we (me…you, all of us) are BRED to hate the Steelers for a lifetime. They don’t get it. They never will.

    For me, this comment sums it up fairly well:
    “Being a Cleveland fan is like holding a trump card on misery.”

  • mgbode

    @NJ – I can see the comparison w/ Buffalo but they haven’t lost the Bills or Sabres. Now, the threat of losing the Bills paired with Ralph Wilson’s age might make that a bit more complex though.

    @Mike in Seattle – if you live there and say the comparison is not apt, then you are likely a better judge than I. I have lived in Northern CA, so I do know the west coast fandom. I just thought Seattle was a bit more invested than most other cities out there (at least for the departed Sonics and Seahawks).

  • Eric G

    @20 Yeah or Eric Gee or sumpin’ I don’t know…

  • Mike in Seattle

    @mgbode – All 5 diehard Sonics fans are still bummed out.

    People in Seattle are way to self absorbed to care much about the pro sports teams (unless they happen to be winning, then they can wear their pink Mariner hats to the game and ask who that oriental guy in right field is).

  • mgbode

    fair enough.

  • Steve

    Raab is trolling for dollars here and he knows so many suckers in Cleveland are going to eat this up. Yeah, it sucks when your sports team loses. But of all people, Scott Raab, should realize how little that really matters. The guy fought off some terrible demons and got his life together. And now, because Lebron James couldn’t deliver a championship for him, his entire life falls apart? I pity his family and friends, and anyone who ever showed a morsel of care for that pathetic excuse for a human being. He craps all over them with this book. He puts Lebron, a person he knew next to nothing about, over all of them. And don’t tell me I don’t get it. I know what its like to live and die by a game. But I’m mature enough to not use a game as a reason to misbehave as egregiously as Raab has, or put it in front of the people/things that actually care or give back to me as much as I put into them. Comparing Raab to a recently dumped 13 year old girl is unfair to the girl.

  • http://www.cavstheblog.com Tsunami

    Me(Parma) and my buddy (Bay Village) beat Contra last night in honor of this post. We had to use the 30-lives code though. (and used a continue)

    Looking forward to reading this.

  • http://www.cavstheblog.com Tsunami

    What is with the comments about Scott Raab just writing this to basically manipulate people into buying it so he makes money. Isn’t that what EVERY AUTHOR/FILM PRODUCER/MUSICAL ARTIST does?!

    You know, there is so much ridiculously awful (God-awful) crap out there. And people all across America EAT IT UP.

    So, basically, I don’t care if Scott Raab is “over the top” or whatever. We live in the age of over the top. I’m going to enjoy reading this.

  • http://diamondhoggers.com Clint

    Nice summation.